Published Apr 01, 2009The life of Superdrag is a story of Behind the Music proportions. Formed in Knoxville by John Davis in 1992, the power pop four-piece found themselves living the ultimate rock'n'roll cliché: scoring an MTV Buzz Bin and alt-radio hit with the throat-wretchingly brilliant single "Sucked Out," and modest sales of their 1996 debut LP, Regretfully Yours then facing major label rejection by Elektra after 1998's Head Trip in Every Key, an overlooked effort, failed to find much of an audience.
After that the 'Drag then lost bassist Tom Pappas, but found a new home for their music with the Arena Rock Recording Co., which released two albums and a compilation of outtakes and demos. But nothing ever came close to the success they tasted in 1996. By this point front-man John Davis wasn't right, and after becoming reliant on alcohol and drugs he erratically broke up the band once the Last Call For Vitriol tour closed in 2003.
From there, Davis had a religious awakening and devoted his time to recording two solo albums. But in 2007, he had another awakening, and decided to reach out and see if the original Superdrag line-up would be up for a reunion. Turns out they were, and after a successful string of shows, the team of Davis, Pappas, Brandon Fisher and Don Coffey Jr. entered a studio for the first time since 1998. The end result is Industry Giants, an album that both relives the band's golden days and shows what's still to come.
John Davis took some time before a trip to Austin for SXSW to tell us why he reformed the band, how the band differs now, why he leaves religion for his solo work and what sparked the fiery punk songs that adorn his new album.
John, you were doing solo work, putting out two albums on your own, and then you reformed Superdrag. What made you decide to put the band back together?
I just felt like it was time. I knew it would happen eventually.
What are the biggest differences for you between working as John Davis the solo artist and Superdrag?
Besides the obvious ones, being a member of a group versus working alone, there really aren't that many. On the first solo record, the self-titled one, I played all the instruments, so obviously that was a drastic change.
Was it hard to get the original line-up back together?
How would you compare the band now as opposed to what it was like back in the '90s or even the band that recorded the two Arena Rock albums?
I think all of the force for good that we generated among the four of us with the music in the very beginning is still at work today, and alot of the darkness that came later has passed. By the time the original line-up started to splinter, I was personally headed toward the downward slope of the bell curve with drinking and drugs. I've been clean and sober for seven-plus years. Not having that mess to contend with makes everything about living better, playing in the band included.
What was the mood like going back into the studio with these guys for the first time in over a decade? Did you need to resolve any conflicts?
None to speak of, really. I was really excited to record with Tom, Brandon and Don again. I had a bunch of songs I wanted to hear them playing! And vice versa, fortunately. Having material from both Brandon and Tom on the album is something I'm really happy about.
How would you say Industry Giants is different from the previous records?
It gets faster and more aggro in places than any of the others...
Was there anything you were looking to do differently this time around?
We had to approach the whole thing differently, due to time constraints and everyone's availability. Not really by choice, but out of necessity. We spent less than ten days actually making the album, but they were spread over a nine-month time period. That makes it harder to stay in the right head space.
"5 Minutes Ahead Of The Chaos" is definitely a new direction, channelling this hardcore side of the band. What inspired you to write such a punky song? Do you see more of that coming out on future recordings?
I take it upon myself to learn as much about the real history of this country as I can. So many crimes against humanity are just out there hiding in plain sight, and nobody gives a damn, as long as there's a Wal-Mart open, and a McDonald's drive-thru, and a football game on TV. And there are individuals and entities in power that work very hard to keep it that way. They depend on the complacence, ignorance and apathy of the mass populace to achieve their aims. And if you're not pissed off about having aerosols sprayed on you by commercial jets, being dumbed down and poisoned by the municipal water supply, being assaulted by all manner of toxic chemicals in your food and drink, and even your very access to healthful foods and supplements being jeopardized under Codex Alimentarius (Google it), footing the bill for mass murder in Gaza City, being conned 24-7 by corporate media, the list goes on and on and on, then I have to question your sanity. Those kinds of things inspired me to write some of the songs. If you're not saying something that will uplift the people with the God-given platform you have, then what are you doing, exactly?
A few years ago you found God. How did your faith play a role on the new album?
Redemption and thanksgiving are two of the major themes... along with vigilance. And for the record, God found me.
Using religion in music is a way of both attracting and repelling an audience. Is it important for your listeners to share the same faith and/or values as you?
No, I just have to say what I have to say, and I stand or fall with it. That's how art works, I think. According to my understanding, Jesus did not come to institute a new religion; he came to fulfill the Law and the Prophets. I believe he did that. The reason my solo records were solo records and not Superdrag records, though, jives perfectly with what you suggest; the last thing I wanted to do was sucker somebody into buying something they didn't want (i.e. an unabashed Gospel record) by doing a bait-and-switch with the name "Superdrag." Did you hear any of the Superdrag tribute albums?
Yeah, I've heard 'em all! I love Bomberpunk.
What are your plans as far as touring goes? Will you come up to Canada soon?
We intend to go as many places we can and play for as many people as we can, if the offers are reasonable and time permits. I'd be down for another visit to Canada for sure.